Mar 24

Making a Game: Part I

Category: Uncategorized

I’ve decided to expand my professional portfolio before I graduate.

So I’m designing and making a game. The design is the important part I feel. Can I take an idea from conception, figure out all the important details, write up a proper design document, and then, follow it?

So here are the basics of the game design so far.

It will likely be a 2d Mecha game, fantasy-environment. Each mecha will have an energy budget, to supply items, armor, and weapons. In addition, mecha frames will have base stats like mobility, etc, modified by the pilot’s skills. The energy budget is provided by power-cores. There are four “kinds” of energy, white, black, red, and blue. There is no “rock-paper-scissors” advantage provided by any one kind of energy, simply that different effects belong to each kind.

I’m still working this out, for the moment. But basically it goes like so: white: slowly increasing damage strength, effects from only matched sets, and repel effects; black: defensive powers, draining, bonuses for only using black stuff; red: deflecting attacks, random disabling of enemy items, and various miscellanous effects; blue: pulses, knockback effects, manipulate power flow.

I decided to keep to within the remit of that stuff, both to limit what I have to decide on, and because this is fairly easy to balance. Each type has some sort of unique schtick, some way of reducing damage, and something that can make good combos with other kinds of energy.

Mechas will have “slots” to put parts of armor on, weapons, and items, which are stuff that would be like amulets or something that provides an additional unique benefit or effect.

The gameplay will be tactical and positional. You have to try to target the damaged parts of the enemy mecha, while defending your own from attack. If your core gets damaged enough, your whole mecha shuts down.

I am currently considering the skill and stat system. I’m thinking of doing a “cap-and-trade-off” system. There will be a max number of skill points you can spend(the cap), while opposite skills(say speed training vs strength training) will have negative effects on each other(and the trade-off). Ie, if you start to bulk up, that affects your mobility. The more you bulk up, the slower you become.

In addition, there will be the normal range of fantasy-type weapons for the mechas to wield, from long swords to long bows, all appropriately giant-sized. You can train in using these as well, and switch between weapons during combat.

So what do you think so far?

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Mar 9

Value-adding to games: Communities!

Category: Uncategorized

Okay so I’ve been busy lately, with classes, the newspaper, and managing hordes of jabbering monkeys. I’ve been recently promoted to an op on the #sto and #stoqa irc channels(hence the jabbering monkeys).

I’ve observed something interesting though. Cryptic has been really stepping up their communication, thanks to people like Rehpic, Falkoren, and Jaguars. This has served to really benefit the game without much of a cost to the company.

Here’s a hypothetical. Say someone asks some questions about personal shields. Falkoren then asks the powers designers how they work, and he tells us in #stoqa. This gives us the knowledge to properly test them, while some of us add this info to places like sto-intel.org

This then serves to enhance the game. Players have more knowledge, players can properly test complex things to ensure they’re working right. For a minimal cost, of a few minutes of discussion between employees and customers, you have tremendously added to the perceived value of the game.

Encouraging communities are an excellent investment for game companies. Supporting them with actual employee interaction and communication is just pure gold.

However, Cryptic isn’t perfect in their communication. For example, the other moderators have a set of new rules they want to add and enforce for the IRC channels, however, its been difficult reaching Rekhan or Phoxe to get approval. In addition, they don’t rarely come in to the IRC channels for us to communicate community issues there are. I am thankful for Wishstone, she has been a good communication pipeline to Cryptic, but she’s the OCR for the German community, not the english community! This needs to change.

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Oct 10

Professor Bends Matter To His Will, Not a Supervillain”

Category: Phoenix

Ed: This was published in the Okanagan Phoenix on Oct 7th, 2009
Last week, I interviewed a UBC-O Engineering professor, Dr. Kenneth Chau, about his recent research. Dr. Chau joined the school of Engineering in January, from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the USA. His particular specialty is nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is a field dealing with technology and objects that are at the nanometer(nm)-scale size. To put it in perspective, a nanometer, which is 1 billionth(1000 million) of a meter, is 1/1000th the width of a human hair and the wavelength of visible light goes from 400-700 nm.

Dr. Chau recently made a significant advancement in the field of nanotechnology, where he demonstrated that light could actually pull a nano-scale object, rather than just push. The implications are very important, both for the field, and eventually for the production of military, scientific, and consumer products.

The kind of materials that Dr. Chau and others in his field work with, named ‘metamaterials’, offer many benefits to military, scientific, and consumer fields. For the military, such materials and devices can create new metal alloys, with potential unique properties, like extreme heat resistance or superior strength. On top of that, metamaterials offer the possibilities of perfect lenses, or perfectly reflective mirrors. In the more futuristic list of possibilities, it is believed that this field of nanotechnology will eventually allow us to build an invisibility cloak, or even optical computers, but both such inventions are far from being created.

All objects can be characterized by a refractive index, or an index of refraction as it is also called. This is the degree to which light is slowed down within the medium. As well, when light crosses the boundary between two mediums with different refractive indexes, light bends. Microscopes and lenses work by bending light in useful ways. All natural mediums have a positive refractive index, meaning that light is slowed down within the medium. However, some metamaterials have a property known as a negative refractive index, where light is bent in the opposite direction than in materials with a positive refractive index.

This is where the radiation pressure of light comes into play. Light has momentum, like any object that is in motion. However, light has a very small momentum, and can only affect small particles. The radiation pressure effect of light is why comets’ tails are always pointed away from the sun; the charged particles are pushed away by the radiation pressure of light. Picture a fire hose being pointed at you. The pressure of the hose pushes you away.

When the radiation pressure of light is combined with a negative index of refraction, Dr. Chau, proved, via experiment, that light can actually exert a pull force, in addition to pushing around particles. It is like some method of making the fire hose pull you, instead of pushing you away. If researchers can construct objects with arbitrary optical properties, then they can manipulate light in arbitrary ways, leading to all of the innovations listed previously, and many more not imagined yet. We have things, previously thought to be only in the realm of science fiction, happening in labs every day, around the world, and even on our campus.

Currently, the Chau Research group Dr. Chau is working on several exciting projects, and require talented and capable students with diverse backgrounds. One project Dr. Chau is involved in is the construction of a computer cluster, also known as a supercomputer, for simulating complex physical phenomenon. Another is a project to build a sensor, capable of detecting contaminants in water, by using spectroscopic analysis of light that comes out of properly formed droplets of water. One possible use for this optical sensor is to detect vanishingly small amounts of impurities in water.

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Oct 10

The Microsoft Courier: Better than the font

Category: Phoenix

This was published in the Okanagan Phoenix on October 7th, 2009

On Tuesday, September 22nd, Microsoft released details about a product now in “late development”, the Microsoft Courier. Microsoft calls it a “booklet”, rather than a “tablet”, due to the two touchscreens the Courier offers, with a bendable spine. The Courier also comes with a camera on the back of one half of the booklet, as well as a single Apple-like Home button in the spine, which is used for powering the device on and off as well.

The Courier will be a full-featured computer, running a specialized GUI meant specifically for the Courier. It will have wireless and Microsoft’s famed handwriting recognition, however, there is no indication of USB ports or other items. The killer feature though is the handwriting recognition, which in XP, Vista, and now Windows 7, is beyond fantastic.

There is a video circulating which shows a fantastic, and well-thought out GUI, which is focused on productivity and Getting Stuff Done, rather than the cool, slick, media-focused iPhone and iPod Touch. With the two screens, the handwriting recognition, and the the integration with the OS, the Courier looks like an ideal tool for executives, creative professionals, and students.

Microsoft has not yet detailed what the specs of the Courier will be, and there is no word on battery life.

There is speculation that this is part of a business move to lower sales and interest in Apple’s rumored iTablet. However, the promotional material and the design of the Courier is very distinctive and unique, and seems to be trying to carve a new niche for Microsoft, in the world of the Professional.

The only downside to the Courier, is that it is not out yet, and not before this editor graduates.

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Oct 10

Japan’s Love Affair with Droids

Category: Phoenix

Ed: This was published in the Okanagan Phoenix Sept. 23, 2009
We’ve all seen robots and androids like Data from Star Trek, C3PO and R2D2 from Star Wars, as well as real-life robots, like ASIMO from Honda, and they all seem to be coming from Japan lately. There are a wide variety of reasons why robots and androids enjoy such a large popularity in Japan, ranging from cultural to purely economic reasons.

Part of the reason why the Japanese are so fascinated, and even encouraging of robots and androids, is that for the longest time, Japanese and other Asian fiction lacked a common trope that is often seen here in the west; that of the robots rising to crush their so-easily-crushed oppressors. Namely, us. It wasn’t until recently that this trope was seen in Japanese popular culture, and an excellent example is Cashern, a hyper-surreal action movie, where artificial life rises up and kills us all.

Some sociologists theorize that Japan lacks this common trope because industrialization was seen as largely positive for the country, particularly in the aftermath of WWII. In contrast, there was a large amount of social upheaval in western countries during their industrialization periods, where the machines were seen as a distinct threat.

On average, Japan has one of the oldest populations in the industrialized world. In just a few short years, many Japanese will reach the age of 65, and retire, making it so that 1 in every 4 Japanese will be over the age of 65. This is leading to a significant lack of employees, in turn leading to increasing wage costs for companies.

There are two major markets for robots and androids in Japan, one for the elderly, and one for replacing limited employees where possible. The elderly market requires assistants and companions, especially for the elderly that have no family, or whose family doesn’t visit them. There are already a few preliminary models of elderly assistants, and they are selling very, very well. The other market requires robots to replace humans in easy-to-automate jobs, like store greeters, or waitresses in busy restaurants. One particular requirement is that they look and act as human as possible within the limited purview of the job.

The increasing use of robots and androids in Japan has already sparked several major concerns with their use. There are worries that people will begin to prefer talking to and dealing with robots and androids over their human brethren. As well, there are concerns about the material costs of robots and androids, especially maintenance costs, and whether it really would be more cost-effective than the humans that are being replaced. In addition, Japan has signed several environmental treaties, and increasing their high-tech usage will only hurt their compliance with these treaties.

There is also an issue from an economic viewpoint. The desire to replace humans with robots is because the humans are becoming more expensive to employ. This increases the number of people available for jobs, thus driving down the average wage, making it cheaper to hire people again. However, once hiring increases, then people become more expensive to employ again. It is an inherently unstable situation, unless the government steps in to stabilize the see-saw effect.

One thing is for sure, Japan loves their robots, and they are currently the world leader in practical robotics.

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